Lillooet isn't known as the land of plenty, but it could be. The region's mix of hot summers and cool valleys give it prime agricultural potential and a local food security group thinks it's high time the community starts tapping into it.
Lillooet Food Matters, a non-profit group formed in 2008, is holding a community forum to discuss ways to improve the town's ability to grow produce and reduce its dependency on imported grocery shipments.
"I believe we are incredibly vulnerable, basically our food supply is dependent on safe highways, open highways," said forum organizer Gillian Smith.
"We have three routes to Lillooet and all of them are precarious. Independent, sustainable food security means not just everyone growing a little bit of their own food but having more farmers locally and being supported. Less export, less import, basically."
Armed with a $4,800 grant from the Interior Health Authority, Lillooet Food Matters organizers hope the forum will represent all walks from the local community. Guest speakers include food security experts from around the province like Cheryl Thomas from the North Thompson Food Coalition, Dawn Morrison from Indigenous Food Sovereignty and Sarah Bradshaw of the Shuswap Heritage Seed Bank.
"We were a food growing Mecca, that's what is ironic about this whole thing is that we used to be chock-a-block full of food growing," continued Smith. "We supplied all the gold mines in Bralorne and Gold Bridge, all the flats here were covered with food growing. There was tomato cannery, a hops farm, tobacco was grown here. We have pictures and elders who tell us about trainloads of produce going to the south so it was the opposite of what it's like now. We need to reverse that."
Smith calls Lillooet the "secret Okanagan," adding that there isn't much that can't be grown there. The trick is encouraging people to dig in and start their own gardens, something Smith knows is easier said than done. A local seed bank is barely used - not for lack of interest but because people don't know how to start growing from scratch.
Part of the process will be addressed at the forum and through ongoing initiatives that educate people about the health benefits of eating fresh produce while proving home grown fruit and vegetables can be a cheaper way to dine. She also wants to highlight that support for larger scale farmers in the region can boost the local economy while diversifying the food sector's growth and development.
"This is an issue that affects us all," said Smith.
"It's not a hippy issue, it's not a left-wing issue, it really transcends all boundaries. We hope that this will be a stepping stone to further funding and projects."
A locally sourced lunch will be served at the forum. Entrance is free. For more information, call 250-256-0470 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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